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Tag-Archive for "caribbean"

Here’s an adventure business for you Sep 08

Yup, your own submarine. Take on passengers (for a fee) and take them on underwater tours. I posted about a small sub being tested off the coast of France a while back, but these guys have been in operation for a while, and their subs are dry inside. They have boats that can take as many as six passengers.

This is in the Caribbean, off Aruba

They’re made by a Dutch company, and they’re marketing to the super-rich, scientists, and people who want to start an interesting business.

Dutch company U-Boat Worx builds two- and three-person submarines for private and tourist use and has been doing nice business catering to the superyacht owners of the world for the last five years. Recognizing that its aspirations are greater than the number of independently wealthy superyachters, the company has set up a submarine center on the Caribbean island of Aruba aiming to “break open the luxury tourist submarine market.” “By catering to tourism ourselves, we are showing third parties, such as luxury resorts, hotels, and cruise companies, what the opportunities are” says U-Boat Worx founder Bert Houtman.

Looks like fun.

Category: Adventure  | Tags: , ,  | One Comment
St. Maarten/St. Marten Dec 17

Two is the key number for St. Maarten. The island has a Dutch and a French side. The port in St. Maarten (note the two “a’s”) Has two piers and they are working on doubling its capacity. They even have two tourist areas. The port, of course, serves those who don’t want to go anywhere, just show me the shops, but a pleasant half-mile walk along the road with shipyards on one side and a mountain on the other takes you to the capital with its two-street shopping area. With two ice cream stores.

St. Maartin rewards the curious shopper. The two main streets are connected by clean, crowded alleys, full of interesting shops. here are two: A little cigar and sundry shop, called Juggie’s Place. The motto on his door is “We don’t do fakes,” and it’s run by a somewhat intimidating-looking but friendly fellow. His claim to fame is that he advertises “You can use clean restrooms, free!” Apparently the islond gives you two restroom choices—be a customer, or use an uncared-for facility. He said he suddenly started getting people into his store when he offered this third alternative. He has this guy outside his door:

Rasta Claus

Rasta Claus

The watchword for this guy is the vaguely sinister admonition that you need to watch out for what he might bring you for Christmas.

The other remarkable business is an excursion available from your ship, called Snorkel Safaris. “Safari” might be a bit of an overstatement, but the two young guys (mid-20′s) who run the operation have fixed up a pretty good underwater park (scuttled some wrecks, built an underwater walkway) a few minutes by water from the port. They have a nice, well-equipped pontoon “island” equipped with a grill and coolers for beverages. They serve the best hamburger I had on the whole cruise. You get some training and gear, and spend as long as you want poking around the bay. When you’re done, they’ll drop you off in town or at the port. Money well spent. I can’t find the photo of the very photogenic couple who was with us, or I’d share it. Maybe my wife deleted it. :-)

We saw two retired America’s Cup sailboats on the way to town. St. Maartin is the only island to offer a ride on one, and you get to pick between them.

America's Cup racers

America's Cup racers

The town has a reputation for good shopping— the price one place offered on a Nikon camera body was really tempting. But the town has a million jewelry stores—at this point the theme of two breaks down.

Have you been to the French side? Tell us about it.

Off the beaten path Dec 16

The cruise lines offer pricey shore excursions, generally of good quality, and with a vague assurance that you will be safer if you take one of their excursions. You do get something for what you pay—although the companies that provide the excursions are local businesses, they are checked by the cruise lines and held to fairly high standards of performance.

But ain’t competition a wonderful thing? The folks not retained by the cruise lines can offer essentially the same services, and often for noticeably less. The island governments tend to watch over their flocks of entrepeneurs fairly well—after all, you don’t want golden-egg-laying tourists to depart your island unhappy.

Rent for the business owner goes up the closer you get to the port, so a short walk can take you to where the taxis have lower overhead and can afford to take you down the same roads for less. Always negotiate the fare in advance, and don’t be afraid to walk away from a fare you don’t want to pay. Remember, though, most of the fairs are fairly standardized, even if informally, and if you lowball someone, you might get less of a tour than someone willing to pay the usual amount might get.

Another thing that works in your favor: tips are not negotiated in advance, so your driver is Highly Motivated to be personable, informative, and helpful. Actual horror stories are few and far between.

So how have you done on your own? Tell us your adventures or horror stories in the comments.

St. Kitts Dec 14

St. Kitts has been an independent country for about 25 years. Four years ago they decided to switch from an agriculture-based economy to tourism. They are a small island, only half a mile wide at the narrowest, and roughly 30 miles the longest dimension. They couldn’t produce enough to compete even with the other Caribbean islands, much less the big producers like South America and the US. The change has made for a dramatic improvement in the standard of living, and the populace has embraced tourism with a vengeance. Their advertising is definitely edgier than what you’ll see elsewhere. One of their milder T-shirt mottos shows a cartoon person passed out, and the text, “If found, return to St. Kitts.”

Most of the islands in the Caribbean have a tourist area that serves as a barrier between the cruise ships and the interior of the island. St. Kitts has a small one, new and under construction, and their capital (Basseterre, French for base land) is immediately on the other side of that area, and it’s as tourist-friendly as any port area. The original old buildings give a good old-world atmosphere, and you get close-in shopping and an easy walking tour of the original town.

The island changed hands several times over the last couple centuries, and traces remain of those influences, mainly French and English. If you don’t want to ride around the whole island (definitely doable), take the “half-island tour” that takes you to a British fort that has been almost completely restored atop a dormant volcano core appropriately called “Brimstone Hill.”

Lime kiln on the way to Brimstone Hill. Unless you're alert, you'll miss it.

Lime kiln on the road up Brimstone Hill. Unless you're alert, you'll miss it.

The view and camera opportunities are phenomenal. Do you have any good photos of St. Kitts? Share in the comments.

More South Caribbean Dec 08

Not the Dominican Republic, but Dominica. Same root word, but completely different places. Well, different islands. They’re both tropical islands in the Caribbean, and both nice places to visit. Dominica boasts 365 rivers (compared to Antigua has 365 beaches)
Dominica is a common cruise destination, a volcanic island, and almost entirely covered by rainforest. Although the volcano is dormant, you can find a hot spring or two. One is underwater, and escaping gasses bubbling up have given it the name “champaigne reef.” It’s a popular snorkeling site.


Buildings dot the mountainsides

Dominica is one of the islands they recommend you not visit independently, but join a tour group from your cruise ship. The place does not look dangerous, but as you travel around the island you will see a lot of rusted corrugated sheet metal patchwork, peeling paint, and buildings either incomplete or utter disrepair. The streets are narrow and often steep.

A lot of homes are both occupied and extremely shabby. The building code must be a lot more casual than in the US. English is the official language, but unless you speak Creole French or Spanish, and know the island and the culture already, you will probably feel uncomfortable. And you’ll probably look like a tourist no matter what you chose to wear.
The island has some industry, particularly coconut products and bananas, not to mention tourism.
All that aside, though, the island is beautiful and the people are friendly. The tops of the unbelievably tall and steep mountains are in the clouds. Rain forest is no exaggeration, either. The dry side of the island gets maybe 50 inches of rain a year, and the wet side gets several hundred. You need all those rivers!